By Robert Ovadia
I have never seen disinformation weaponised with such venom
as my time in Hong Kong.
We see in social media, right around the world, people’s refusal to acknowledge basic fact if it doesn’t confirm their entrenched political bias. In Hong Kong right now, this is toxic and dangerous.
Well known Hong Kong actress, Celine Ma, protested the
protesters. She had no less right to protest than they did, but because of it a
solitary woman surrounded by an angry mob (championing “freedom” and
“democracy”) was sprayed in the face, punched, shoved to the ground and had a
glass bottle smashed over her head. This is fact and unambiguous.
Organisations like Apple Daily, which has specific links to the “pro-democracy” protesters, deliberately edit videos out of context to alter their audience’s impression of what happened, to make it seem like she attacked protesters first. A brief description of this is “propaganda”. Apple Daily starts its sequence with Ms Ma defending herself, making her look like the aggressor and that became the narrative for so many.
She was outnumbered and brutalised by a mob that wants democracy, but only the sort of democracy it seems where everybody must agree with them or they cop it. I have seen other instances – more brutal – of people speaking out and getting assaulted:
I have seen police accused of beating and raping protesters before they go to court, of undercover police being the ones starting fires, with absolutely zero evidence to back that up. If there were evidence, we would report it without fear or favour. There is little doubt such accusations are peddled by propaganda machines like Apple Daily and, alarmingly, there are so many people who swallow it and it becomes their “truth”.
My role in this was little more than a journalist seeking to interview her and I put myself between her and the mob to do it. I had not anticipated her pleading with me to escort her to the police station, which I felt compelled to do, and I certainly did not anticipate what followed in the coming days.
For helping this woman, I was labelled “pro-China”. That led to the standard doxxing we see today on social media, a torrent of abuse online and, far worse, death threats. My name and picture were circulated among protesters and intelligence sources informed us we were to be targeted by these “peaceful protesters”. That is not spontaneous violence – it is calculated, premeditated – all because allegiances here are so fanatical, a mere act of kindness could only be viewed through the prism of politics, immediately judged and avenged.
It has long been said truth is the first casualty of war. That used to apply only to the generals, politicians and strategists who could try to manipulate the public. These days, everybody has a voice online. Everybody is in on the dirty secret.
I have dealt with many decent protesters in Hong Kong – people who were polite, who are understanding of what journalists do, who offered us water and one who helped wash tear gas out of my eyes. There are many kind people and I have no doubt, the origins of this mess are founded upon good sentiment.
But if these people are truly fighting for democratic rights, they must observe their own principles. I have received a flood of communication from people thanking us for our unbiased coverage, but only doing so in private messages, they say, because they don’t want to fall victim to the angry mob either. One has to wonder what sort of democracy they are trying to preserve.